written by Teyquil Skelton
On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to spend time backstage with New Jersey native, Janet May, as she lounged in her comfy sweatsuit, with her acoustic guitar in arm’s reach.
Each artist has their own routine to get ready for a show. Janet May said that she’s thrilled to be in Philly because it’s where she grew up seeing music. Underground Arts is an honor to play in, said May, as it gives her a break from playing in less traditional spaces as she has done in the past. These clubs and bars that she plays in now were very much the same venues she attended when coming to see her favorite bands as a fan. The tour she’s on currently just begun, May explains and it is the second night of an 18-day tour that she’s happy and proud of to have family and friends attend.
As the conversation continued, I inquired about the role she plays with activism and how her two passions merge, as a musician and as an activist. I was eager to hear her response as to how both passions service each other to give support to women and minorities.
May opened up and we learned that we had very similar performance training in college. She stated, “that as an artist, it is our job to escape the confines of social norms and expectations and take something of this world that’s quite ugly and make it pure and beautiful again.”
That’s why the rights of women and minorities need to be addressed and handled with care. The destruction of those two alone is massive and needs immediate attention. We must find ways to acknowledge these issues and work together to change all that is problematic concerning these matters.
In other words, May uses both skills and tools to convey a message about a much bigger situation. One way she uses her skills to get a message across is through funding projects that are much needed, such as a safe shelter for LGBTQ+ (a non-profit organization based in New York and Mexico). They help migrants who may be seen as asylum seekers. These are, however, migrants who have walked for many miles hoping to enter the states. From all the way of Point South to Honduras and Guatemala to make it into Tijuana, Mexico where the safe shelter is held.
May stated that although this is an ongoing crisis, she was lucky to have met another activist named Vivian Farmery who understood the situation taking place in Tijuana. They decided to work together to develop ideas to make everyone’s tragic encounters easier.
Though it wasn’t much when they found the shelter, over time it became livable and quite homely for the refugees. While Vivian’s team was in New York doing the administrative work, Farmery was installing doors and the boiler.
Music and activism can work alongside one another. I feel it possesses the power to make people take heed about the dangers we face on a daily basis. Being a voice for the voiceless is empowering and if we all can do things that are just as helpful and engaging, we can make the world a better place. We can change the landscape and the stigma by letting go of everything we don’t need and start collecting the positives and sharing those with others who may benefit from the energy and optimism that we have built for ourselves first.